The Story of Maid Marion
Julie Brophy

Maid Marion
Spring 2004

The History of Maid Marion
In spring of 2003, a female robin paired up with Robin Hood (RH). We came to call her "Maid Marion" (i.e. MM).

Unlike any other robins, which RH swiftly escorted (chased) out of his territory, Maid Marion seemed to enjoy special privileges from Robin Hood. For starters, he would allow Maid Marion to be in his territory, and would not chase her out. More amazing is the fact that he would allow her to feed on the meal worms that we placed out for him on the balcony. No other birds were allowed to do this. Whether they be bluejays, cardinals, catbirds, chickadees or something else,RH would chase them all away the instant they got to the balcony or the railing around it.

But Maid Marion was different. At first, she would come shyly to feed after he did, and he would allow it. Later, she and Robin Hood would come to the balcony together and eat the worms at the same time. They were clearly a pair. Later they worked together to feed their fledglings, coming more often than usual to the balcony to get more and more meal worms.

Julie's Field Notes: March/April 2004

Is Maid Marion Back Again? Is it Really Her?
On March 29, 2004 , I woke to hear RH calling outside my balcony window at 6:00 a.m. It was a cold night last night (about 38 F). A little later that morning, I was walking upstairs in my house near a large window that looks out on the balcony where we have always fed Robin Hood. I saw a female robin on the railing. She was facing where RH feeds. I walked to the balcony, slid the door open, and called with the same clicking sound I make before feeding Robin Hood.

The female robin was not startled by this. Instead, she flew calmly to the same Bur Oak tree that RH sits on, about 15 feet from the balcony. In fact, she flew to the same exact tree branch that RH and MM routinely stopped on last year on their way to the balcony. (I call this branch the "launching pad".)

I knew this bird was not RH, because it was clearly a female. (Like many female species of birds, female robins are generally not as sharply colored as the male. The female robin generally has paler overall markings and a paler colored breast, with no black on the head.)

Female--Maid Marion Male--Robin Hood

But the fact that it had been on the balcony railing, and had then flown to the same tree and the same "launching pad" branch made me think. . ."I wonder if this is Maid Marion? Could it be? Did Maid Marion come back to the same yard too?"

Questions and More Questions:

"Does it look like Maid Marion?" I checked my notes from last year and recalled that MM had a very pale chest with streaks of blended white running vertically up its abdomen and breast. I also remembered that she had a weird "hairdo"--because the feathers on the top of her head come to a point or crest. And when I compared this bird, its coloration, crest and other markings they matched up with MM's appearance from photos I took last year (see photo).

Do you see the "point" on her head?

"Does the bird seem familiar/comfortable with with the territory? Does it seem familiar/comfortable with me?" To answer these questions, I thought carefully about what I was observing. When I slid the door open and called, it flew to the same exact launching pad as last year without getting startled, so it seemed to be comfortable with the territory and with me too. The next questions I started thinking about were:

"Does she remember getting worms here last year? Will she come to the balcony and feed on worms like MM did last year?" It only took a few minutes to find out the answer was yes. I placed worms in the dish. I placed them under the balcony table, and then stepped back and slowly closed the door. Within a minute or two of closing the door, she was feeding from the same dishes under the table--same as last year. It sure seemed to me that this was in fact Maid Marion. But some last questions still came to mind:

"Would Robin Hood allow this bird to stay in the territory and feed on balcony worms, especially when weather was still cool and food was not abundant?" "Would they pair up and become mates again?"

"What is the 'mate fidelity' of robins? Has anyone studied this?"

Robins sure have great memories! Now Robin Hood and Maid Marion are back to arriving together and eating the worms at the same time. Welcome back Maid Marion--to the same backyard as last year!

Try This! Journaling Questions

  • What reasons can you think of to explain why Maid Marion has come back? Do you think she came back because she and Robin Hood are continuing to be mates again? Or do you think she remembers what a great territory/habitat this location is, so she came back for that?, not to be with Robin Hood again? After all, she had great shelter, water, and an endless supply of mealworms!
  • What do you think Maid Marion has done since last fall? Consider the ideas below, along withyour own; then answer the question by writing a paragraph with a clear topic sentence.
    • Where did she migrate to this winter?
    • Did she and he migrate to the same place as last year?
    • Why do female robins generally arrive on territory after males?
    • Did they migrate back together for any part of the journey?
    • How will her behavior differ here this spring and summer from Robin Hood's behavior? Or from her behavior last year?